DATE: February 21, 2019
SNIP: They’ve spread it on roads. They’ve irrigated almond farms and fruit groves with it. The oil and gas industry’s liquid waste has been used for a variety of commercial and industrial purposes over the years. But never has the “beneficial use” of this waste stream been so grossly applied, or so close to home, as it is today.
Meet Eureka Resources and Nature’s Own Source. Both of these companies have attracted attention by processing liquid waste from oil and gas operations and creating commercial products for use in pools and on roads, sidewalks, patios, stairs or anywhere else a consumer may put it.
Cargill purchased 4,700 tons of salt from Eureka between May 2015 and December 2016. One of Cargill’s meat processing plants, Cargill Meat Solutions in Wyalusing, Pennsylvania, is less than 10 miles away from Eureka’s wastewater treatment facility, and “processes about 1,500 head of cattle per day,” according to Cargill’s website.
In an email, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) wrote that Cargill “advised the Department” that Eureka’s “[c]rystallized sodium chloride” is used by Cargill “to prepare and treat animal hides, resulting from Cargill’s meat packing operations. Cargill prepares the animal hides using one of Eureka’s salt products for commercial sale.”
Eureka’s frack salt is also approved for sale as a pool salt. The investigative news team at Public Herald exposed that Eureka’s byproduct is packaged and sold as Clorox Pool Salt. Workers at Eureka’s Standing Stone facility package the salt in Clorox bags and pallet them for shipment via an “unnamed third-party distributor to be sold at regional stores like Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Lowes.”
According to Waste Management Program Director Ali Tarquino Morris, PADEP additionally approved Eureka’s “Evaporated Salt” for use as road salt.
You may be wondering how a company like Eureka could get away with repackaging byproducts from fracking and selling them without informing the public about what they really are. But the process is perfectly legal in Pennsylvania through a regulatory mechanism called “de-wasting.” De-wasting essentially means rebranding waste as a new product, often without significant treatment to remove health and environmental hazards.
Another product of concern is manufactured in, and approved by, Pennsylvania’s neighbor to the west — Ohio — also a shale gas and oil production state.
In 2003, Duck Creek Energy began manufacturing a de-icing product from its oil and gas wastewater called AquaSalina. According to a press release, AquaSalina was approved by Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) for de-icing and as dust suppression on roads the following year. The product is also used by the Pacific Northwest Snowfighters Association (PNSA), which evaluates the safety of products used for winter road maintenance. However, according to the PNSA’s protocols, radioactive materials present in oil and gas waste — such as Radium-226, which has half-life of 1,600 years — is not part of the testing regime. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that AquaSalina is used in several states across the U.S.
Thirteen years after ODNR approved AquaSalina, a study by the agency in 2017 revealed that AquaSalina contained high levels of the carcinogenic Radium-226 and Radium-228 — more than 300 times higher than federal limits for drinking water. Despite its findings, ODNR still allows the spreading of AquaSalina on roads.
In 1988, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chose to exempt oil and gas as “special wastes” from RCRA Subtitle C, the rules that govern hazardous wastes — despite finding, at the very same time, that oil and gas wastes contain toxic substances that endanger both human health and the environment. For example, the EPA found that benzene, phenanthrene, lead, arsenic, barium, antimony, fluoride and uranium in oil and gas wastes were of major concern and present at “levels that exceed 100 times EPA’s health-based standards.”
This leaves regulation in the hands of states, which have their own ways of exempting oil and gas waste from being handled as the potentially hazardous waste it is.